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UNICEF says one-third of children not in school have a disability and are often denied dignity and rights

NEW YORK, 12 October 2011 – Children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized and excluded groups and suffer widespread violations of their rights, UNICEF said today as a key report was presented to a committee of the UN General Assembly.

Children with disabilities are denied access to education and health care, opportunities for play and culture, an adequate standard of living and the right to be heard. They are discriminated against and treated as an invisible burden. In some cultures disability is viewed as a curse or punishment. A child with an impairment is blamed as the embodiment of past failure, inadequacy or sins.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake presented the report of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child with a special focus on children with disabilities to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in New York.

Their discrimination is not from the intrinsic nature of their disability, but rather from entrenched social exclusion resulting from multiple barriers including discriminatory legislation, lack of training for teachers, prejudice, social stigma and inadequate understanding by teachers, parents and society, as well as a lack of services and support. Children with disabilities are at risk of suffering violence, abuse and neglect

There is little reliable data on discrimination against them, but it is undoubtedly widespread. Some estimates are that at least one third of the world's primary school children not in school have a disability

Some steps have been taken to address the current paucity of information.  However, significantly greater investment is still needed in data collection to begin to build a more effective picture of the reality of the lives of children with disabilities. 

The prevalence of disability is a complex issue depending not only on factors such as access to health services and resources allocation, but also to social attitudes which can vary over time and from place to place; what may be considered a disability in one place is not in another. Consistent and accurate information is necessary to render children with disabilities visible.

Barriers are formidable and include discriminatory legislations, lack of training, prejudice, stigma and inadequate understanding as to the nature of disability.

In health care, several studies show that children with disabilities do not receive standard immunizations and basic care.  There is a common misconception that people with disabilities are not sexually active, they find it difficult to get access to confidential health services, including contraception and HIV/AIDS services. Action is also needed to stop children with disabilities being subject to forced sterilization or abortion. 

Children with disabilities, who could be cared for at home, are at a higher risk of being placed in institutions.  This means they are outside of their community in an anonymous environment which increases their isolation.  Part of this is due to stigmatization, but this is also due to a simple lack of basic services accessible to the family.
The report said that children with disabilities live with discrimination in every aspect of their lives. The impact can be profound, dehumanizing them, denying them access to basic rights, access to a visible life, even to the right to life itself.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For more information, please contact:
Dumeetha Luthra, UNICEF New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7495,




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